LaDonna Gunn wants everyone to have the chance of finding out who he really is.
Gunn, who works at the Cedaredge Public Library, is working to bring the county library district’s technological and human resources together to create a comprehensive genealogical research service that library patrons can use, for free.
With online resources available at the libraries, including patron access to the subscriber-only ancestry.com database, Gunn has conducted library staff in-service sessions around the district, along with workshops and seminars for individuals and groups who have an itch to learn more about their family trees.
The primary online resource that Gunn uses, and the one she almost always points a family researcher toward, is ancestry.com. The Delta County libraries have only recently — within about the past year — purchased access to the huge database which is accessible only to those who pay. So now this vast amount of information is available to library patrons in Delta County.
Gunn is training library staff at the district’s local libraries on use of the genealogy research sites that are available. But library staff do not conduct genealogical searches for patrons. They can assist with tips and pointers for those wanting to use library resources to conduct their own searches.
“What I like to do in the public workshops, for instance one held recently at Crawford, is demonstrate how the (ancestry.com) website works, and then just turn people loose to begin their own research,” Gunn explains.
In addition to the ancestry.com site, there is a database of databases service called Cyndi’s List.
Other resources include the Mormon Church hosted site familysearch.org. A National Archives service found at archives.gov is helpful. There is the coloradohistoricalnewspapers.org site, and another one found at usgenweb.org.
There is a Bureau of Land Management site that can help with searches relating to property records going back to the Government Land Office days at glorecords.blm.gov. And, of course, there is always Google as a place to start.
Gunn and many of the staff at local libraries can give tips and pointers to patrons wanting to begin a search. Or, if your request is technical or difficult, they can often point you in the right direction to find help.
Gunn tells the story of two siblings who after many hours of searching finally made that “breakthrough” discovery that opened up sources of information about their father, whom they had not known growing up.
“I worked with two people who were looking for their father. When growing up they just never got any information about him because of a divorce. All they had was a name and a possible year of death,” Gunn explained.
“They spent hours looking through death records. Then finally, using a Social Security number they had gotten, we were able to trace the father back and we found the date and place of his death. From there, they will be able to access any records from the community and state where he had lived, for instance in an obituary or other local records.
“For those two people it was a real breakthrough, because they had spent futile years trying to get information from the Social Security Administration. But with the SSN, they got information they needed from our ancestry.com access,” Gunn said.
“So now, they can begin looking for all kinds of other information about their father, like what his occupation was, did he ever re-marry, and lots of things anyone would want to know. They may end up finding information online, or they may end up corresponding directly with the community where he lived and died.”
Gunn’s interest and expertise in genealogy is an extension of her masters degree in history and experience she gained on the Front Range in local history museum curation.
A big part of the attraction and fun of genealogical research is first finding the individual you want in a database. Next comes finding information that is available about that individual. Then comes the piecing together of that information to learn who that individual in your personal past really was.
Maybe what you learn will fit in with your own “family mythology,” and maybe it won’t.
Doing one’s own family history search can become a fascinating and engaging journey of self discovery. Hours can literally fly by as patrons follow leads, eliminate dead-end search results, apply a logical process of elimination to their information results, narrow their particular search, and find themselves becoming engrossed in the art and science of investigation.
An important thing to keep in mind about the library’s online genealogy resources, including ancestor.com. is that they are mostly raw database information; there is no site that will draw up a custom, ready-made profile on your great-grandpa. The information that Gunn, and other staff at the Delta County libraries are able to guide patrons into using is basis resource information for individual research.
The library staff is available to help patrons find success in their own searches, not to do research for them.
As Gunn explains it, “It’s a process of elimination. It is true investigative work. You know bits and pieces of information, and when you begin to analyze the data that ancestry.com and other sites give, you will sometimes say, ‘That might be him, but the family story is that he came here in a different year.’ It’s a process of making the links come together based on the data that the site gives you from your search requests.”
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